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Brenton Whiting

Abby Glogower
Remembering The Future
WRT 105
Miyazaki Films and their Fundamental Connection to the Natural World
Hayao Miyazaki is master and auteur in the field of Japanese animation, known for
countless feature films. Whilst many themes exist that span a number of his works, the most
intriguing is his constant interest with mans interaction with the natural world. 1 Two of his
films, Princess Mononoke and Nausica of the Valley of the Wind, boast this as their most
prevalent theme. Both films have very strong messages about the natural environment, and both
have plots intimately related to how mankind deals with nature. These two films also create a
good set of chronological endpoints, with the first film being set in an area similar to 15 th century
Japan, and the latter taking place on a fictional Earth many hundreds of years from now. The
motivation behind Miyazakis inclusion of the theme is his films differs between iterations,
ranging from the Minamata case2 to destruction of the environment through unchecked industrial
growth.3 Miyazakis work communicates his opinions to great effect through his use of both
story and art style, creating a cohesive vision of his themes. His opinion of man and nature in
Nausica and Mononoke might seem to have no apparent connection, Nausica portraying
nature as this forboding enemy pushing humanity to the brink of extinction, and Mononoke
seeming to show us that if people try hard enough, then can destroy nature with very little effort,
1 Andrew Osmund, Nausica and the Fantasy of Hayao, Foundation 72 (1998): 5960
2 A case in which methylmercury in industrial wastewater was dumped into
Minamata Bay and the Shiranui Sea from 1932 until 1968, causing neurological
problems due to mercury poisonings in the surrounding area due to consumption of
contaminated fish and shellfish.
3 Freda Freiberg, Miyazakis Heroines, Senses of Cinema (2006):
http://sensesofcinema.com/2006/feature-articles/miyazaki-heroines/

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but this is a faade. The theme of sanctifying nature and interacting with it an honorable fashion
a principle message in both of these films in equal amounts, and that they strive for the same
goal.
Nausica of the Valley of the Wind
Nausica of the Valley of the Wind was released in 1984. The film is based on a manga
illustrated by Hayao Miyazaki himself. This epic takes place a millennia in the future, after
civilization has been destroyed in a man-made cataclysmic event known as the seven days of
fire. Following this even, humanity has splintered into a number of feuding groups. The
remaining people moved into a feudal system governance smattered with fighter planes, tanks,
and biological weaponry. These survivors of the apocalypse have collected into a number of safe
havens and created tribes, some who simply wish to survive, other who wish reconquer the
Earth. This remaining equipment in invaluable, due to the loss of the means to produce it. 4 After
the cataclysm5, nature reclaims the vast majority of the Earth. The giant forest that now covers
much of the planet is also home to a number of exotic creatures that evolved to live in this new
worlds highly toxic atmosphere.6 The realm in which Princess Nausica lives in is known as the
Valley of the Wind, and remains free of the toxic spores, mutant insects, and hostile plants of the
forest due to a breeze that eternally blows in from the sea. Nausica spends a great deal of time
researching the forest and its inhabitants, and, unlike most others, has respect and reverence for

4 Helen McCarthy, Hayao Miyazaki Master of Japanese Animation (Berkeley: Stone


Bridge Press, 2002): 72
5 This disaster is very often theorized to draw inspiration from the imagined result
of a bioweapon fueled war.
6 Andrew Osmund, Nausica and the Fantasy of Hayao, Foundation 72 (1998): 63

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the seemly evil forest and its hostile appearing inhabitants. 7 Her research reveals that not only
were the plants entirely safe when nurtured with clean soil and water, but that the plant of the
forest were actually filtering and cleaning the air and water.8
The most violent and destructive force in the film is not the forest, but rather the people who
wish to destroy the forest rather than try to understand it. They believe that destroying the forest
will purify the atmosphere, and that humanity will once again rule over nature. It is to this end
that the people of Tolmekia,9 try to use a weapon10 from the seven days of fire to try and
eliminate the forest and its inhabitants. This leads to disaster as the Pejiteians, the people whom
the weapon was stolen from, harpoon a young ohmu and use it as bait so that a horde of the
insects will attack the Tolmekians. The Tolmekians attempt to use the weapon, even though it
has not been fully prepared, to try and fight back the swarm of ohmu, but they are overrun. The
tide of rampaging ohmu is only stopped when Nausica, after being shot by a Pejiteian soldier,
removes the harpoons from the young ohmu and prevents it from running into the acid sea in a
blind panic. Nausica was prepared to give up her own life to try and give the wounded ohmu
back in the hopes that they might not destroy the entire village in blind rage. The creatures
recognize the act of selflessness and stop their charge. They then lift the wounded princess up
7 Dani Cavallaro, The Anime Art of Hayao Miyazaki (Jefferson: McFarland &
Company, 2006) 99
8 Helen McCarthy, Hayao Miyazaki Master of Japanese Animation (Berkeley: Stone
Bridge Press, 2002): 84-85
9 One of the Countries formed by surviving humans
10 In the film, Tolmekia, led by Queen Kushana, tries to use one of the beings that
caused the seven days of fire as a weapon against the forest. This giant, fire
belching demon is known as a kyoshinhei, or God Warrior, and upon its attempted
revival, begins indiscriminately destroying everything in its path, Kushanas people
and creatures of the forest alike, until it is destroyed.

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Remembering the Future

into the air on their golden antennae and heal her,11 before taking their young one and returning
to the woods.
Nausica takes viewers on a journey that can be understood a few different ways. The obvious,
surface opinion is that Nausica is capital G good and that the Tolmekians, led by their ironfisted leader Queen Kushana,12 are downright evil. However, it is not that simple; Nausica and
Kushana are two sides of the same coin: both want to rid the Earth of its toxicity. 13 The
difference between the two comes down to the methods they use, a difference which exemplifies
Miyazakis reverence for nature. Kushana, fueled by hatred for the forest creatures, seeks to rid
the world of its pollution by burning away the forest, whilst Nausica instead chooses to research
the forest. In doing so, Nausica discovers that the roots systems of the toxic trees are filtering
the water and air, gradually purifying their surroundings. The subtler shades of environmental
opinion can be found rather easily in this film, with the people of the Valley of the Wind,
representing those who weary of nature, but do not value it or treat it with respect. The people of
the Valley, not possessing the knowledge or heart of Nausica when it comes to the forest, burn
anything contaminated by the forest spores if it finds its way anywhere near their homes or
farms, but do not make any attempt to cut away or clear the standing vegetation, knowing that
doing so could be the doom of them all.
Princess Mononoke
11 This ending displeased many critics, as they felt that the healing powers of the
ohmu were a Deus ex machina to far too extreme a degree to be acceptable.
12 Queen Kushana is explained to have lost an arm and leg to the ohmu when she
was young. She was given metal replacements for both limbs, meaning that she
has an actual iron fist.
13 Collin Odell and Michelle Le Blanc Studio Ghibli: The Films of Hayao Miyazaki and
Isao Takahata (Harpenden: Kamera Books, 2009):59-61

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Princess Mononoke was released in 1997, and is another of Miyazakis original works. The film
is set in a fictional world based heavily upon the technology and society of the Muromachi
period in Japan.14 The story of the film follows Ashitaka, the young prince of the Emshi, a tribe
of people who are dedicated to living in respectful balance with nature, much like Miyazaki
advocates in his own views. 15 Several people from the village are attacked by a terrible creature
that scars all that it touches. This being looks like a writhing mass of worms or tentacles, but
after it is dispatched, it is found to be one of the boar gods that has been turned into a demon by
rage. This rage comes from a ball of iron that is found embedded in the boars hide. Ashitaka, in
the act of slaying the demon, is briefly caught by it, leaving a cursed mark on his right arm. The
wise woman of his village tells Ashitaka that he must leave the village and travel west with
Sight Unclouded to find what is causing the gods to lash out against man. He leaves the
village and before long reaches a small town. Whilst in this town he discovers that the local lord
is at war with ironworkers who have built a village upstream, as the pollution from extracting the
iron is killing the crops in the town. Ashitaka is uninterested by this news, but is also informed
that the forest of the god Shishigami is nearby.
The leader of the Ironworkers, a woman by the name of Lady Eboshi, and her men were
returning to their village when they were set upon by the wolf god Moro and her children, two
large wolves and the spirit princess San.16 The wolves kill a number of the caravan, but Moro
is shot by one of Eboshis guns, which fire iron balls, and retreat. Ashitaka later passes the same
14 Helen McCarthy, Hayao Miyazaki Master of Japanese Animation (Berkeley: Stone
Bridge Press, 2002): 185
15 Collin Odell and Michelle Le Blanc Studio Ghibli: The Films of Hayao Miyazaki and
Isao Takahata (Harpenden: Kamera Books, 2009): 20-21
16 Princess Mononoke is better phrased the Mononoke princess which means
the spirit princess in English

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area, and finds two survivors of the attack who were left behind in the frantic escape. Ashitaka
brings both of the men back to their village, the ironworker town of Tataraba. While in the
village, he meets Lady Eboshi and is pleased to see that she maintains a village where all the
people are cared for and well fed, including the lepers who she relies on for fine and delicate
skilled work. His curse activates and his arm moves to draw his sword and kill Eboshi, but
Ashitaka restrains himself, knowing that even though Eboshis work is harming the forest around
her and angering its gods, she is trying to create a better life for her people. That night, San and
the wolves attack the village to try and take revenge for the injury of Moro. Ashitaka attempts to
appeal to reason, revealing his curse mark to the village and telling the onlookers that that is
what comes of lashing out in hatred and anger, but his warning falls on deaf ears. He is forced to
knock out both Lady Eboshi and San. He tries to leave the village carrying the unconscious San,
but he is shot in the chest by a villager. The strength provided by the curse mark allows him to
carry on and get San all the way back to the grove of Shishigami before he succumbs to his
wounds.
Ashitaka awoke to find that Shishigami had healed his wound, but his curse mark
remained. Soon after, the Eboshi is confronted by Jigo, a man contracted by the Emperor to kill
Shishigami and bring back his head.17 Eboshi, Jigo, and a force of imperial agents fight against a
large crowd of beast gods, mainly boars assisted by Moro and her wolves, and both sides incur
huge losses. The boar god Okkoto ends the battle running through the forest in a blind rage, and
starts to become a demon, nearly killing San. Ashitaka is able to save San, and Shishigami
arrives. Rather than restoring Ottoko, Shishigami drains away the last of his life before Lady
Eboshi shoots his head off. Jigo flees with the head, but the headless god starts destroying all in
17 Though Eboshi seems to resist the idea of killing the god, it is implied that she
and Jigo have a history and that she owes him some kind of favor.

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its path as it chases after Jigo. San and Ashitaka chase after Jigo and are able to return the gods
head, but the damage has been done and Shishigami retreats to a remote part of the forest to die.
The messages found within this film are great in number and in complexity, especially
when in relation to nature. The Emshi are Miyazakis view personified, as they exist in quiet
harmony and reverence beside the forest. The people of Irontown are clearly harming the natural
world, cutting down the nearby forest to create easier access to the mountain from which they
mine their ore, but still do not live in direct spite of the spirits. 18 The film runs its entire course,
but never paints any clear villains, and this is because there really arent any. Lady Eboshi,
though she doesnt care at all for the nearby forest, still aims to be good to her people, and even
Jigo, the man sent to kill a god, is represented as more of a man doing a job to survive than one
who hates the forest and its gods. Through this portrayal of the people in Mononoke Miyazaki
shows tried to show that its not the bad people destroying nature, its the hard-working
people.19
The Nature of the Films
While both of these films may seem to be coming from entirely different perspectives when
speaking of nature, both really are trying to explain the same message. Miyazaki has taken two
very different, both in story and chronology, methods to express the same opinion about how
man should revere and respect nature. These films are not entirely different though, and when
talking about their opinions on nature, the films can be found to be nearly direct parallels.

18 Collin Odell and Michelle Le Blanc Studio Ghibli: The Films of Hayao Miyazaki and
Isao Takahata (Harpenden: Kamera Books, 2009): 109
19 Dani Cavallaro, The Anime Art of Hayao Miyazaki (Jefferson: McFarland &
Company, 2006): 124

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The antagonists of both films aim for fairly similar goals in the long run. Kushana aims to
burn the toxic forest of Nausica to the ground so that man may again be safe from its dangers,
and Lady Eboshi seeks, though the destructive iron mining, to provide a comfortable living for
her people, many who would not have one otherwise. Both Ashitaka and Nausicaa have a
reverence for nature that serves as a motivation in the films. As well as motivation, both put
their life on the line to try and create peace between mankind and nature.
The depiction of nature in the two films is the most direct of the parallels. The toxic
forest filled with ohmu and other giant insects is gradually purifying the water, air, and soil,
making the world a better and more livable place for all involved. The gods in Mononoke keep
the forest alive, but are not without fault, the gods are large and visibly imposing, and are even
shown to be hostile in their interactions with mankind.
The films are both Miyazaki communicating to us that nature is to be revered and
respected. This theme is found in both of the films and, while the surface of them may seem
entirely different, when put under the microscope they fall into line. This idea of reverence, by
being stretched between these two films, has its own message.

Miyazaki, through the

chronological difference in settings in Nausica and Mononoke, is demonstrating that this


struggle of finding balance with the natural world is eternal, and inherent to the struggle of man.

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